A Sharp Intake of Breath Secondary Title

In 701 B.C. the Assyrian empire was in its ascendancy. It had already vanquished the kingdom of Israel to the north including the capital at Samaria. It then prepared an assault on Judah and its capital at Jerusalem.

But in one of those significant events that changes the course of world history, Assyria was repelled. Jerusalem was saved until 586 B.C. when the Babylonians sacked the city, forcing its leadership class into exile.

Henry Aubin, in a major feat of scholarship, determines that Jerusalem was aided by a Kushite army from Africa which had marched northeast from the Nile valley. While the Bible attributes the Assyrian retreat to an angel and secular commentators cite pestilence, Aubin, in a meticulously documented work, demonstrates that an alliance with the African nation of Kush bolstered Jerusalem’s defences.

Kush, also known as Nubia, was located in what is now southern Egypt and northern Sudan. A monarchy that existed for more than 1000 years, from 900 B.C. to A.D. 350, Kushites held sway over Egypt from 712 B.C. to about 660 B.C. Of Egypt’s 31 dynasties, this, the 25th Dynasty, is the only one that all scholars agree, was black.

The commander of the Kushite expeditionary force was Taharqa (or as the Bible calls him Tirhakah). This Kushite prince, who had his own interests in halting Assyrian expansion, likely caught the aggressors by surprise as they prepared their siege of Jerusalem.

Aubin offers a thrilling military history and a stirring political analysis of the ancient world. He also sees the event as influential over the centuries.

The Kushite rescue of the Hebrew kingdom of Judah enabled the fragile, war-ravaged state to endure, to nurse itself back to economic and demographic health, and allowed the Hebrew religion, Yahwism, to evolve within the next several centuries into Judaism. Thus emerged the monotheistic trunk supporting Christianity and Islam.

A Sharp Intake of Breath

“This is a tender, intimate story of courage…told with compassion and complexity.”
Elizabeth Ruth
Author of Ten Good Seconds of Silence and Smoke

A Sharp Intake of Breath more than satisfies…[I]t reveals Miller as an impressive storyteller; one wonders what he’ll do next.”
The National Post

“Miller succeeds admirably in shaping a serious, imaginative novel about the jagged, often fractured, path taken for the sake of a worthy life.”
The Montreal Gazette

A Sharp Intake of Breath resounds with a unique and authentic voice…a heartwarming and potent piece of fiction.”
Quill & Quire

Helen and Stan Vine Canadian Jewish Book Award 2008
Shortlisted for the Dayne Ogilvie Award
John Miller
Dundurn 2007

A Sharp Intake of Breath

Cleft palate, hare lip, serpent tongue: this was little Herman Wolfman’s affliction from his birth in 1917. Also shaping his life is a glorious jewel, known as The Orange Sunset.

This unique 36-carat amber colored diamond brooch, surrounded by 12 emeralds, is owned by Rupert and Oonah MacNabb, wealthy employers of Herman’s sister Bessie. When Oonah suspects an affair between Rupert and Bessie, she plants it among Bessie’s belongings to discredit her. Bessie discovers it, and Herman, accompanied by his other sister Lil, breaks into the house to return it. When he is caught, he tosses it out the window to Lil hidden in the shadows below.

Herman, already embarked on a life of petty crime, sacrifices himself for his two sisters. He can’t reveal Oonah MacNabb’s plot without ruining Bessie’s chances for marriage. And Lil, a brilliant medical student, known in intellectual circles for her friendship with the leading 1930s activist, Emma Goldman, has a life of promise ahead of her. Herman is jailed for 11 years, and Lil leaves the diamond with Emma in St. Tropez in the hope of selling it. Decades later, Herman embarks on a quest for the cursed Orange Sunset.

John Miller offers an absorbing tale, rich with detail and vivid characters. Herman, nicknamed Toshy, is unforgettable. His struggles to overcome a speech impediment which makes him appear slow to outsiders, his loyalty to his loving sisters, his eventual, hard-won happiness, make him a joy to know.

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